Interview: Henry Wagons

Once upon a time – a couple months ago actually – I met a man. I met a big, tall, Aussie man who gave me a towel.

His name was Henry Wagons. He was the opening act at a Those Darlins show I attended and caught me completely by surprise, not just because he gave me a towel but also because he was an amazing artist.

Throughout his set he talked about his band back home, Wagons, that he had to leave behind due to the cost of traveling.

I was intrigued and wanted to hear more of this band, so after his set I grabbed myself a copy of The RIse And Fall Of Goodtown.  Henry was happy to sell me a CD and also chatted with me throughout the night. Turns out he is a big deal in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia.

Henry was a cool cool man and I should add that CD I purchased from him was amazing.

Recently, I was able to catch up with Henry and talk about him and complete randomness:

BHP: The name Henry Wagons is not that well known in the states yet but that is a different story in your homeland correct?

HW – Its true. I think I’m on the D-list back at home. My band does quite well in Australia and I’m a presenter on a TV show so I have enough of a profile to expect to get invited to celebrity filled premieres, but never actually get invited.

Tell me a little bit about yourself…

I’m a Gemini. I like to go to the movies. I’m organized but not a neat freak. I love holidays sipping pina-coladas on a hammock but rarely make it out onto the sand.

Good enough, so how did you get your start as a musician?

I started playing music quite late. I only got into playing the guitar after I finished high school. I became friends with stoner Pink Floyd fans at college, and they couldn’t really talk, so I learned some licks.

In the early days I played in a couple of noise/jam bands, then kinda wanted to try my hand at more traditional song-writing, so found my way through my Mum’s record collection and became fascinated with the likes of Johnny Cash, Tom Jones, Rod Stewart and other manly singers.

Can you give me a brief history on how your band, Wagons, was united?

I went to school with most of them. I was the only one who did my homework.

I started Wagons as a kinda throw away recording project, making a little tape of country songs in which I played all the instruments. I cut and pasted the covers together. Really lo-fi 4 track recordings. I wanted to play them live at a local open mike night at a metal/hardcore pub. I asked my mates to help me out. We got offered our first gig out of open mic night and there seems to have been enough momentum and good times since then to keep it all going. Who knew?

We all take it quite a bit more seriously now and are thankful that people still want to hear us play. I think it really helps to have humble beginnings and relatively low expectations to keep things in perspective.

Pic by Michael Christian
Pic by Michael Christian

How would you describe Wagons to someone who has never heard of them before?

Imagine if Elvis, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, Dick Clarke, John Wayne and John Forgery all had a child together, and that child was a fat, over-excited nerd. How cool would that be! What was the question?

No idea.  Who are your major influences?

See the proud parents above.

When we spoke outside of the Beachland Tavern weeks back, you mentioned a few things that had me thinking. First off, you were talking about a Visa is needed in the states to perform?

Its true. A lot of bands slip into the country under the radar, but we did this last trip on the books. The performance visa cost us $2.5K. That’s a lotta burgers.

Luckily we are in a position to afford that kinda outlay, but I feel sorry for smaller bands wanting to play in the States for the first time, before you have too much happening at home.

You also mentioned that your homeland helps pay for performing out of country? How exactly does that work?

There is so much red tape you could bind and gag Elvis’ entire fan club.

You basically fill out forms and prove you are a real band, doing good work and, thankfully, government arts funding is there for you.

I understand you left your entire band back home because it was too expensive to fly everyone out. Did you save up for this? Will you be able to do it again, maybe with more of the band?

I definitely want to be able to bring the band over. Wagons music is made to a pretty grand scale, so it would make sense to have a beat behind it.

It is expensive to come over to the US. You can imagine the flights themselves for five band members is thousands and thousands of dollars, let alone transport, food and accommodation.

I’ve come over as an ambassador for the band, to get a feel for whether our stuff might work. I feel good about it. I think, provided I don’t cover my floors in plasma screen dancefloors we will be able to bring the rest of the boys next time.

How important is this solo tour for you?

As much as I love having the boys around, I do love playing solo. I can settle into a long and boring story on stage with a guitarist telling me to shut up.

What was it like going from big crowds in Melbourne to opening for bands like Those Darlins to smaller crowds? Did you feel you were right back where you started?

I try to give my all no matter how many people are there. I’ve felt that way since day one. When it comes down to it, I feel it’s a honor to have anyone’s attention. I’m always going to respect that by putting on a show for em.

Besides, I’m always playing Madison Square Garden when I close my eyes.

What is so different about the American lifestyle you like / hate?

The excellent junk food is a constant source of pleasure and horror. There is nothing I like better than sinking my teeth into the local junk food specialty, be it Chicago pizza, Philly cheese steak, Portland Voodoo donut etc. You guys do guilty pleasure food soooo well it kills me. Problem is, it is also killing me.

What are some of your favorites here in the states?

My favorite roadside chains are: Cracker Barrel, Chipotle, and Starbucks.

Each of these guys brought me so much joy for different reasons.

How are the accommodations during your visit?

Accommodation has been great. I has gotten to know the Day’s Inn franchise very well across the country. When I see those weather beaten white glowing signs out the front of a 70’s yellow brick motel I feel like I’m home again.

In your opinion, do you think Americans dress funny?

Ronald McDonald dresses pretty weird.

How did you get hooked up with Those Darlins? I understand the Cleveland show was the first night you played with them. Who were you performing with prior to that show?

I met Those Darlins at SXSW last year, and we were going to do a tour with them. It was all locked in…we even did a photo shoot together and were on the covers of magazines back home in preparation for the shows (ask Matt to give you the pics!!). Then Nikki broke her arm and had to pull out of the show!! Was a great shame it didn’t work out. But, despite the adversity, Wagons and Those Darlins have been friends ever since.

Before Those Darlins I played a few shows with Justin Townes Earle and Bobby Bare Jr. Both amazing American songwriters and performers!

How long was your trip to the states? How many cities did you play?

I was in the US for about 3 and a half weeks, visiting 13 towns all, across the country. Planes, trains and automobiles. I gather it’s not a massive tour by US standards, but we got around a bit for our first time here.

How have the crowds been during your opening performances?

I was a little worried about playing the opening slot. I haven’t been the warm up guy for quite a while. I was hoping I hadn’t lost my mojo for getting the crowd to be quiet and listen to what’s going on. As it turns out, everyone has been great and quite respectful. Maybe everyone is straining to understand what the hell it is I’m saying in my weird accent. Whatever the reason….I’m not fussy.

Was there any one city that seems to favor you over another?

Justin Townes Earle’s bass player Josh gave me a bag of bacon and choc chip cookies in Bellingham, WA. That city stands out for that reason.

I understand you headed to the UK? What went on over there?

Mostly fantastic Sunday roasts with Yorkshire pudding, Jammy Dodgers, Jaffa cakes, soggy but good fish n chips, pear ciders and cold weather. Playing a couple a gigs in London too. It’s mostly a holiday, but I’m playing over here a little bit before a run of shows back in Australia over Summer. Gotta record a record over New Year’s sometime too!

Is there anything here in the states you look at and shake your head at? Meaning are there major cultural differences you have noticed?

I shook my head when I was crossing the border into Canada and they asked if I was carrying any weapons.

You have a certain upfront humor that I loved but could offend someone easily. Has anyone taken your jokes the wrong way yet?

Someone once asked me the same question as you, with the addition that he was almost going to ram me into the drum-kit behind me. ‘Almost’ was the operative word. A lot of people almost get offended.

Do you have any fun stories you wish to share?

I’m an avid Tweeter and Facebooker – I wear glasses…I’m a nerd. I have shared a lot of my stupid happenings on there. Befriend me! I swear virtually befriending me is probably better than the real thing!

Why should someone check out Henry Wagons and the music he makes?

Because they have finished their daily chores, logged off their email, called their mom, walked their dog, starting to get bored and are looking for something absolutely fucking mind-blowing to do.

Check out Henry Wagons on FACEBOOK and MYSPACE and even TWITTER.

Album Review: Bars Of Gold – Of Gold

Bars Of Gold (BoG), a new project including former Bear vs. Shark (BvS) members Marc Paffi and Brandon Moss, recently released their debut album entitled Of Gold through Friction Records.  Moving from the post-hardcore sound the band carries a more punk rock / indie rock sound.  BoG may not necessary cater to many BvS fans out there on this release, but after just one listen, I am a fan.

A Nintendo-y opener, properly titled “Boss Level” started off the album with me scratching my head wondering what the rest of the album would entail.  Not that there is anything wrong with a little 8-bit-core, it was just unexpected.

“Heaven Has A Heater” focused more towards an indie sound with a punk singing style that really sounded amazing.  This is definitely a track that needs to be checked out.  While I am talking about tracks that needed to be checked out, listen to “Birds” as well.  The sound was like what might happen if Modest Mouse and Talking Heads decided to collaborate.  It was catchy and bizarre all at once.

“The Hustle” was unlike any other track on the album and by far the most entertaining to my ears.  The banjo almost hypnotized me throughout the wild folk-heavy track with Paffi’s vocals howling all over the place.  Dare I say Hot Water Music vocals meets Travis guitar playing?  Yes, I just said that.

The melodic “………….” was a nice, chill track to listen to at the start but soon had a little group vocals going on in the background leading up to Paffi taking over.  The song reminded me of Cursive track in a good way.

“Cannibals” was a great track to sit back to and just enjoy.  In the true spirit of indie rock, this song kicked ass and I loved how the beginning crept up around you and then just turned into a mad frenzy of insanity.

It’s nice to see musicians move on in differnet directions without sounding like they are trying too hard.  Bars Of Gold have a good sound going for them and I am loving what they have created.  I am sure there are BvS fanatics out there wondering what happened and it is expected, but I have the feeling that once a few of them make way through this album they will grow to appreciate all that it is.

2010 is coming to an end and I think I have found my favorite indie-ish rock album of the year.  Check it out for yourself:

Interview: Christian Martucci of Thousand Watt Stare

Punk rock is not dead.  I say that a lot recently because I know it’s true and there are still bands out there releasing honest, wholesome punk rock albums for the sake of just doing it.  They are not looking for money or fame, just a good time doing something they love.

Here is where I now introduce a punk rock band that I like right?  Well you are half right.

I am going to introduce a punk rocker that I like who has played in some pretty solid bands over the years including Black President, The Chelsea Smiles, and even played in the Dee Dee Ramone Band.  Recently he formed Thousand Watt Stare with a couple of musicians from Unwritten Law, a band I have been a fan of since I first saw them open for Bad Religion in ’96.

Recently I had the chance to talk it up with Christian Martucci about his new band as well as some of his amazing past.  If anyone has lived a punk rock dream, it’s Martucci.

Dylan Howard, Pat Kim, & and Chris Martucci
Dylan Howard, Pat Kim, & and Chris Martucci

BHP: Your new band, Thousand Watt Stare, has an EP dropping next month. What can you tell me about this new project you’ve created?

CM – We just love to play music and have a good time with it… I’m very happy to play with these guys. No ego’s, no pressure… It’s a breath of fresh air.

Why the change-up in sound from previous bands you have been in?

In Dee Dee’s band it was Ramones songs, Black President was all Charlie, and The Chelsea Smiles were more of a straight rock n’ roll band… I’ve had the Thousand Watt Stare stuff in my head for years now. It was just never anything that would work with the other bands. I’m glad they’re finally seeing the light of day.

So how did you hook up with Unwritten Law’s Pat Kim and Dylan Howard?

PK played with Black President early on when Hetson was still in the band. We had a great time hanging out back then and always kept in touch. When Black President ended and it was time to start something new, I called Pat and we started jamming. He brought Dylan on board and two weeks later, we started recording.

Why did Black President disband anyways?

I think Black President had to break up… When you consider some of the guys schedules, it doesn’t really allow them to go full steam a head with a side project. The thing with that band is that it wasn’t supposed to be anything more than a cover band to blow off steam. That was actually my favorite part of doing it… Looking back I’m actually really surprised we even made the record. It wasn’t meant to have a long shelf life. I think of it more as a psycho that everyone cheated on their bands with for a few years.

As you already mentioned, you;ve worked with some heavy hitters in the punk rock world  including Bad Religion’s Greg Hetson and Dee Dee Ramone. How did those opportunities come about?

Your guess is as good as mine… I wasn’t having good luck where I was, so I saved up $600, packed a suitcase, one guitar and just moved from Philly to LA in ’99. I only knew one person out here and was sleeping on his couch. He introduced me to Stefan Adika. Stefan was playing bass for Dee Dee at the time and asked if I’d like to come down and play. I ran home, went over like 30 something songs and showed up at the rehearsal room that night… Dee Dee had NO idea I was coming down and was a little freaked out… He looked at me and said “So, what are you gonna try to play guitar or something?” I didn’t know what to say.

He was one of my biggest hero’s. I just smiled like a nervous idiot, plugged in and we played “Rockaway Beach”. We got done, he looked at me and was like “OK you better sing the next song now… ‘Chinese Rocks’… 1-2-3-4!” “Alright I think we better go to ‘South America’ now…” The whole time I was standing there I couldn’t believe I was playing with Dee Dee Ramone. That feeling lasted the entire 3 years I was able to do it. Everything about him was for real.

The thing with Greg happened from when Black President was still a cover band called Shithead. We had Marc Diamond from The Dwarves playing with us and… I can’t remember what happened. I think The Dwarves had to go on tour, so Charlie told us Greg Hetson wanted to do it. I actually thought he was kidding at first. Next thing you know, he’s at rehearsal playing Dead Kennedy’s songs with us. I really like Greg a lot… Awesome guy and as down to earth as they come…

You started touring recently around California . Any chance of a nationwide tour any time soon?

No definite plans yet but we really hope so…

Your previous bands toured a lot over the years. Who were some of your favorite bands to tour with?

Bouncing Souls, TSOL, New York Dolls, Social D, Backyard Babies… There are so many but those are the ones that stick out the most for me. They are all very good people.

For the punk rock lovers out there, can you tell them why they should check out Thousand Watt Stare?

The punk rock I like is the kind where there aren’t any rules. In the 70’s punk didn’t have a defined sound yet, that’s why I think it was a great as it was. Television, Dead Boys, Ramones, The Clash, etc. None of those bands sound like they should be in the same genre. I think you should check out Thousand Watt Stare because we don’t worry about those things either… It’s just honest rock n’ roll.

Thousand Watt Stare‘s self-titled EP drops on November 16th on Hardline Entertainment.

Invasion of the Yuppie Punx (Part Deux) – A Screeching Weasel Concert Review

I am the type of person that wishes I could do everything every time – specifically I speak of concerts. I go to plenty, but not all of them. Sadly there are certain factors I need to look at when I go to a show:

When is the show?  Do I have work or class the next day?  Where is the show?  Can I afford to drive hours away to see said show and then drive home without staying at a hotel? 

Yeah, not the greatest criteria for figuring out if I can hit up a show or now, but it is the truth.  I can not jeopardize my job (even though I am writing this at work) or school by missing a day or being too tired to for that matter.  I am an adult now and even though I do not want to act like one – sometimes I have to.

Case in point:  Screeching Weasel recently made a couple stops near Ohio (but not IN Ohio…).  I could not afford the trip down to Covington or over to Detroit and I knew it well in advance.  A handful of my friends were however able to take in a show.


So being curious to hear how the show went I asked begged my best pals from Columbus, Pete and Mary Alice who went to the Covington show, to write up a little something something about their trip to see the one and only Screeching Weasel.

Take it away Pete (and thank you).

Salad Days
Salad Days

My beautiful wife and I ventured down to Cincinnati/Covington, KY’s Madison Theater for an evening with one of our favorite bands ever, the newly reformed (sans Jughead who had a falling out with you know who) Screeching Weasel.  Much like our recent trip to see NOFX with Brian and Kolb, we stayed at a hotel, choosing the Radisson for our accommodations.  That’s us up there, in our room, happy as clams.

No story of the Yuppie Punx would be complete without a full description of our fantabulous surroundings.  Well, you’re kind of not going to get it here, because the rotating restaurant at the top of the hotel left something to desired.  I mean, my salad was good and all, but the rest of it wasn’t that great.  Not a lot of vegetarian options. The worst part of the experience was that the restaurant employees acted like it was some amazing and luxurious place.  (“Special Occasion?”  You CAN’T be serious, dah-ling).

I got a picture of this family who were sitting behind Mary Alice.  They were hilarious.  Blond wife, blond kids, Dad with a sleazeball ponytail – bigger yuppies than us!
Look out behind you!
Look out behind you!

But anyway, the show.  This is the second time we’ve gotten to see Screeching Weasel, the first time being at last year’s Riot Fest in Chicago.  Now I do have some mixed feelings about seeing the band without Jughead, but Mary Alice couldn’t care less.  Ben Weasel could be standing alone flinging feces at the audience, and she would still pass out from the excitement of seeing “Ben”(Cue girly sighing noise).  But Juggy’s absence is not enough to keep me from seeing the band, disappointing as it is.

We got to the Madison about halfway through the second of three bands.  We still can’t get out of the local-show-starts-late mode of Columbus.  But whatevs, we were in plenty of time to see the Weas.

The venue wasn’t as packed as when we saw NOFX, but it was a good crowd.  For some reason, we were able to smoke inside this time(?).  We decided that perhaps Fat Mike insisted on non-smoking when his band played; I’d believe it.  As I mentioned before, we didn’t have to wait long for Weas to go on, so we got a couple of drinks and scurried to get a front stage spot on the second level behind the pit.  After the second band finished (Shot Baker from Chicago), we waited for about 25-30 minutes for the headliners.  They walked out on stage, made a few inaudible comments, then good ol’ Dan Vapid belted, “CINDY’S ON METHADONE, 1-2-3-4!!!!,” and the band proceeded to launch into the tune from their classic LP My Brain Hurts.

Ben Weasel flanked by Dan Vapid on guitar
Ben Weasel flanked by Dan Vapid on guitar

Now, I’m not one of those “write down the set list” guys, but this set list from Chicagofrom an earlier show this year is pretty darn close. Mary Alice enjoyed snapping many pics of her beloved Ben, and we shouted happily to all the songs we know from over 15 years of faithful listening.  We only didn’t know one song, entitled “Vacation” (the title being take off of the Ramones song “Endless Vacation”), which apparently will be on an upcoming new album.  Oh boy!

Ben seemed to be in his regular grumpy mood, as opposed to a reallygrumpy mood like he was in Chicago.  He paced back and forth on the stage, while the rest of the band happily plowed through an hour’s worth of music, including my personal favorite (“Teenage Freakshow”) and Mary Alice’s personal favorite (“Peter Brady”).  We got thrown a little curve when Ben walked off the stage while the band performed the instrumental “Talk to me Summer,” which was a better move than staying on stage to rock out with no instrument.  Ben didn’t talk to the crowd too much, shy Dan didn’t talk at all.  My favorite spoken moment was Ben’s intro to “Cool Kids,” in which he reassured the crowd that Screeching Weasel never had exclusive parties back stage, but instead would just hang around after the show being sweaty and tired.  It was cool, because they didn’t claim to be overly devoted to their fans, just normal guys who want to go home after the gig ends.
Ben surrounded by two guys we don't know
Ben Surrounded By 2 Random Guys

I wouldn’t say the crowd was insane, as so much were the bouncers.  They were pulling people from the crowd at an unbelievable rate, just to jettison them from the venue stage left.  While I couldn’t see all that was going on in the pit, I had a hard time believing that there could be that many people throwing punches.  Sometimes when I see a bouncer rough someone up, I wonder if they did anything to deserve it.  That’s totally punk of me to think that.

While Mary Alice and I both agree that Screeching Weasel is not the greatest live band in the world, we would gladly see one of the greatest bands in the world perform an average live show any time.  It was a great night with a great band. Pure and simple greatness personified.  Greatly.

A Great Band
A Great Band

After the show, we went back to hotel and drank liquor out of these minuscule glasses.  We also watched the Good Morning Miss Bliss! (later renamed Saved By the Bell) ORIGINAL Pilot on YouTube.  They had none of the classic SBTB characters, and they had an old weird guy playing Mr. Belding.  Then we topped off the night with the order from the new and improved Domino’s Pizza.  I don’t know what exactly Domino’s is claiming they do differently now, because the pizza still sucks.

The Yuppie Punx
The Yuppie Punx

Concert Review: Social Distortion / Lucero / Frank Turner – 10/24/2010 – House Of Blues – Cleveland, OH

Three different levels of rock took place last night in Cleveland thanks to Social Distortion and their hand-picked bill.  The punk rock icons made a stop at the House Of Blues Sunday night with special guests Frank Turner and Lucero.  The venue was packed from end to end with tickets selling out weeks ago leaving the last minute fans standing in the rain looking for extras – literally.

It’s been a little over four years since Social D took the stage in Cleveland, far too long of a hiatus.  It was no surprise at the amount of fans who lined up outside of the venue waiting for the doors to open.  Everyone in line looked excited and knew exactly what was going to be happening in just a short time except for a Cleveland police officer who pulled his motorcycle up on E. 9th asking if anyone had an iPod with Social Distortion on it so he could see what they sound like.

Opening act Frank Turner took the stage just after 8 p.m. to a very full and energetic crowd.  This was his second visit to Cleveland ever and this time was much better than before as he was not battling the flu and none of his bandmates slipped on the stage and fell on their ass during the set.

Playing “Try This At Home” it was clear that more people in the crowd this time knew who Turner was as they sang along to his folk rock songs.  Turner excitedly announced a new sing-along called “I Believe” and taught the crowd their parts.  Needless to say, the song was amazing and provided a nice hint of what his new material sounds like.  He continued with “Sons Of Liberty”, the ever catchy “The Road” and also played “Photosynthesis”.  The set was shorter than the crowd would have liked but was enjoyed by all.

Good ol’ boys Lucero took to the stage after a brief break and did their best to win over the crowd.  Sadly not as many people seemed as excited during their set but there was a nice chunk of true Lucero fans who sang from the beginning till the end as loudly as possible making sure all their surrounding neighbors realize they were missing out on something good.

The southern rock act played through their set including “I’ll Just Fall”, “Sixes & Sevens” as well as “Noon As Dark”.  They sounded amazing live and appeared so happy to be on the stage with lead singer Ben Nichols even saying “This is a dream tour for us.”  “Mom” was a highlight to many in the crowd who all knew the lyrics by heart as was the set ending “Tears Don’t Matter Much.”  Their set flew by entirely too fast and many were wishing that was not the case.

Social D made way to the stage with lead man Mike Ness donning an almost rockabilly / Swingers outfit with baggy khakis and a white button up shirt.  After absorbing the cheers from all over the venue Ness was handed a guitar and the band broke into three classics “The Creeps”, “Another State Of Mind”, and “Mommy’s Little Monster”.  Looking and sounding solid as ever, the band played with great energy and soaked in all the excitement from the crowd.

“Sick Boys” got the fans moving around as Ness and crew thrashed about the stage while everyone sang along – Rock N Roll never sounded so good.  With beers in hand and eyes focused on the stage, Social D continued with “I Was Wrong” as well as played a new song from their upcoming album entitled “Still Alive”.

Moving around their catalog, the band played older and newer tracks including “Ball & Chain”, “Bakersfield” (another song from their upcoming release) and “So Far Away”.  For having been around for 30+ years, the band showed no signs of being too tired to play or any hints that their musical career would be ending anytime soon.  By the sounds of the cheers it was certain that everyone was enjoying themselves at one of the better shows that has come to Cleveland.  Add in “Prison Bound” and Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” and many Social D fans were beyond satisfied with the set.

The only downfall of the show that could be seen were the folk who just didn’t know when to stop throwing back drinks – more so than other recent shows.  It was quite apparent that a lot of Sunday night concert goers would be calling off Monday morning.  A couple fights erupted, one during Lucero, and a select few fans were so piss drunk that they could not stand on their own two feet halfway through the main performance.  Nevertheless the surrounding crowd was unscathed by their actions and paid attention to the real reason they came to the House Of Blues: To take in a Rock N Roll show by one of the best acts out there.

January 18th, 2001, Social Distortion will be releasing Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes, the band’s first release in over six years.  By the show that the band put on last night, it’s evident that excitement for their new album has reached higher levels.

Social Distortion Setlist:

The Creeps
Another State Of Mind
Mommy’s Little Monster
Sick Boys
Don’t Drag Me Down
I Was Wrong
Bye Bye Baby
Still Alive
Ball & Chain
Through These Eyes
King Of Fools
When She Begins
Making Believe
So Far Away
Prison Bound
Down Here With The Rest Of Us
Cold Feelings
Ring Of Fire